You'd be forgiven for missing the arrival of the 2017 Hyundai Sonata. There are a few reasons for this, least of all the minor update that included new tyres, more tech but no styling changes for this mid-size Hyundai sedan.
Its biggest problem is it's part of one of the slowest sales segments in the Australian market – medium cars. While the Toyota Camry carves it up thanks to fleet sales, with 26,485 sold in 2016, the rest of the competitor set are left to languish with none, including the Mazda 6, Subaru Liberty, Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Octavia, reaching the 5000 mark. The Sonata was the seventh-highest seller at 1676. Not to mention it also competes against its sibling, the Hyundai i40.
Medium cars are being outsold by small cars at a rate of 3:1, and medium SUVs by more than 2:1. The entire segment is almost a desolate wasteland, devoid of new car buyers, with the small car, medium SUV, 4x4 ute, large SUV, small SUV and light car segments all more popular. Medium passenger cars made up just 6.3 per cent of total sales last year.
So that's the bad news. The good news is, if you're looking for a medium sedan, the Sonata is worth checking out. To use a sport analogy, it's not its fault it's playing lawn bowls instead of golf. It may be a strong competitor, but the game is far from prime-time so no one's watching.
The Sonata range consists of three trim levels and our test car, the base model Active, is priced at $30,590 before on-road costs. The Elite is $38,350 and the top-of-the-range Premium will set you back $45,490. All have had a price jump this model year – you can read the full pricing and specifications story here.
From the outside there’s not much that would give the Active away as the base model. The Sonata is 4855mm long, 1865mm wide and 1475mm tall, and all three variants feature chrome coated dual exhaust tips, body coloured bumpers and a dark chrome grille. The door handles on the Active are body coloured rather than chrome.
It does, however, sport new tyres. Formerly fitted with Kumho tyres, they've been dropped in favour of 215/55R17 Continental Conti Premium Contact 5 on 17-inch alloy wheels for the entry-level Active and mid-spec Elite, while the top-tier Premium rides on slightly larger 18-inch rims. Former WRC driver Chris Atkinson tested the new tyres and gave them the tick of approval, citing better grip, ride comfort and quietness.
The Active misses out on the LED tail-lights and illuminated door handles featured on the higher two specs, though all score LED daytime running laps and dusk sensing headlights. Hill start assist is standard across the range, as is a rear-view camera and rear park assist.
Wheel mounted paddle-shifters have been added across the range though there are no further changes to the Active. If you want rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, front parking assist or electronic park brake, you’d need to step up to the mid-spec Elite which can also now be optioned with the two-pane panoramic glass roof that’s standard on the top-spec Premium.
The Sonata is also now available with blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane change assist and rear cross-traffic alert, standard on the top-spec Premium.
Engine options remain unchanged, the Active has a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, while the Elite and Premium trim levels have a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine. All are front-wheel drive and have a six-speed automatic transmission.
Inside, it's spacious with good visibility and light; it feels larger than a medium sedan. The Active has manually adjustable cloth seats that are well shaped and the material is relatively nice to the touch. The trims and materials used are also relatively nice though there are a lot of hard plastic surfaces and overall the cabin is far less flashy and shiny than the higher specs. The interior door handles are metallic, rather than alloy effect, and there are no faux carbon-fibre panels on the dash or doors either. Meh, that’s not the first thing you’re going to look for in a mainstream mid-size sedan.
The cupholders have a sliding cover and there are clever storage nooks around the lower centre-stack that take care of keys, coins, phone, wallet and other paraphernalia. The centre console bin is a decent size and has a comfy arm rest on top, plus there is a roof mounted sunglasses holder. Everything is well finished using quality materials and while it may not feel premium, it doesn't feel cheap like some other base models tend to do.
There is a little 3.5-inch display in the instrument cluster and the slightly nasty feeling plastic steering wheel sports controls for cruise control, audio and phone, volume and information display. The Active has a 5.0-inch touch screen while the two higher trim-levels feature a much larger 8.0-inch unit with satellite navigation. The Active’s infotainment system is fairly basic in its functions; CD, MP3, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and there are 12V and USB outlets.
The air conditioning unit is manual and single-zone, though there are air vents for rear seat passengers. The second row is also incredibly spacious, with plenty of room for two adults or three children. The map pockets on the back of the seats are large and a big step up from netting or those super-flat ones that are more like document sleeves.
There is room for a water bottle in both doors and the fold-down centre arm rest is comfortable and features two cupholders. The rear seats are 60:40 split fold and expand the already large 510L cargo space, though the hands-free boot opening function is reserved for higher-grade models.
The naturally-aspirated 2.4-litre engine in the Active produces 138kW and 241Nm and is teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. Though the 2.0-litre turbo may sound more attractive on paper, the Active's engine is no slouch. It launches smoothly off-the-line and doesn't get noisy or rough as it's pushed to the desired cruising speed. It's refined and calm, but don't expect punchy, powerful performance out of it.
The cabin remains devoid of intrusive engine noise and is also a haven from road, tyre and wind noise making it a pleasant place to be at any speed. The suspension is locally-tuned and is neither bouncy or harsh. It's supple and compliant over most surfaces and again, there is no harsh noise or banging over sharper imperfections on the road surface.
It's well composed around corners, provided you don't try and push it too hard, but this is not the car for that. So taking corners at a reasonable pace inspires very little body-roll and it feels solid and stable. The new Continental tyres play their part and you can notice the confidence-inducing grippy feel on the asphalt.
The electric power steering is responsive, light, well suited to urban duties like parking and remains smooth feeling at highway speeds though it does lack feel and feedback.
During our time with the Sonata Active we did a bit of highway time, but most of our driving was done around town. The claimed combined fuel consumption figure is 8.3-litres per 100 kilometres and we recorded a figure of 12.1L/100km which happens to be exactly the claimed urban consumption figure.
While it doesn't top the offering from its Korean cousin, Kia, Hyundai's ownership proposition is still a very attractive package with a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, up to 10 years roadside assist and a lifetime, fully transferrable, capped-price servicing plan.
It's a pity more people aren't into medium passenger cars because the Hyundai Sonata should be turning more heads. While the Elite would be our pick of the range due to its longer list of standard features and that 2.0-litre engine, the Active is considerably cheaper and still has a quality, yet conservative feel about it
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